Can We Really Teach Students to Love Reading?

by Jason Fertig

Not according to Prof. Alan Jacobs of Wheaton College in the Chronicle:

The extreme reader, to coin a phrase, is a rare bird indeed. (“I have done what people do, my life makes a reasonable showing,” Lynne Sharon Schwartz writes. “Can I go back to my books now?”) Such people are born, not made, I think; or mostly born and only a little made. They take care of themselves; they always do go back to their books. They come out of the woodwork when Clay Shirky says that War and Peace isn’t interesting to reply that, to the contrary, it’s immensely interesting, fascinating, absorbing, and by the way, Mr. Shirky, have you ever tried reading it or are you speaking out of ignorance? — and then back to their books they go.

Those are my tribe, but they are few. It is more common to come across the person who has known the joys of reading but who can be distracted from them. But even those folks are a small percentage of the population.

If Professor Jacobs is correct, his assertion creates a quandary for dealing with today’s students. Do we alter our pedagogies to cater to their “learning styles,” or do we hold our position and demand that they read? Many who are reading this will default to the latter, but I wish it were that easy. Pressure to maintain graduation rates and the lack of a good evaluation system for professors (e.g. too much reliance on student evaluations) lead many faculty members down the path of least resistance.

Yet, as I mentioned in my last post, I believe we can reach our students by taking a more optimistic view their academic motivations. Better to see who has that love of reading that needs to be unlocked rather than to demoralize those students who truly love deep reading with a dumbed-down curriculum.

Of course that’s just my opinion, I could be wrong.